Two women, tried as teens for the murder of their teacher, confront their past and each other.
A tabloid photo of 18-year-old Serena and 16-year-old Poppy, pictured wearing string bikinis and holding ice-cream cones, leads the London press to dub them the Ice Cream Girls. After their former teacher, Marcus, was found stabbed through the heart, each girl denied administering the coup de grâce. The sensationalist press coverage portrayed the teens as sociopaths and Marcus as a saint. The jury believed Serena but convicted Poppy. Twenty years later, Poppy is paroled from prison, and returns to her parents’ home in Brighton, where the welcome is decidedly frosty. Serena, also a resident of Brighton, has a professional career, is married to mild-mannered physician Evan and has two children. Through flashbacks, we learn that—unbeknownst to their parents—Marcus seduced both girls when they were underage, then embroiled them in a depraved ménage à trois. Each suffered beatings, emotional abuse and repeated rapes. Serena’s outwardly calm domestic life imperfectly masks her post-traumatic stress—she hides the kitchen knives every night and cannot bring herself to reveal her past to Evan. Poppy emerges from prison with only one goal in mind: force Serena to admit that she was the one who fatally stabbed Marcus, not Poppy. Threatening to expose her to Evan, Poppy tries to coerce a confession, however Serena claims that she cannot recall how Marcus was killed or by whom. It stretches credulity that two girls from relatively privileged homes could not escape this predator especially since, when they’re not enduring his atrocities, they are living at home with their parents. The accretion of details of these horrors certainly imparts a credible motive for murder. However, the question remains, who actually killed Marcus? The solution to this puzzle is unexpected, largely because Koomson elects to gloss over the details of the murder investigation and trial.
Although the plot does not weather close scrutiny, this is an unsettling, insomnia-inducing read.